Presenting a better alternative

While talking to scouts last night about respecting the American flag, some of their questions led to a great discussion about our American right to free speech — specifically how the government can’t prevent any citizen from expressing his or her ideas even when those ideas make us feel extremely uncomfortable or unwelcome. As long as the expression is not a direct threat to personal or public safety or inciting violence, it has as much right to the public square as ours do. The second we start to limit speech, we’ve sacrificed one of the greatest of our founding ideals.

The way to counter ideas we find reprehensible is not squelching or drowning them, but by presenting a better alternative.

Continue to show up

As I flew out of DC today and looked back down our National Mall, I imagined all the young people that would fill the spaces in between the monuments and buildings in the hours to come. I remembered how Marine One darted over my head by the Washington Monument yesterday, carrying the president to a Mar-A-Lago-bound Air Force One. It struck me that those who create a meaningful life are those who SHOW UP. Not just for the main event, but who continue to work, to learn, to improve themselves, and to give, day in and day out.

I applaud and am awed at all the young people who showed up in our capitol and around the country today. You showed up to the big event. Now continue to show up every day. In your classes. In your communities. In the voting booths. In your own hearts. In everything you do.

The perfect white guy

A while back when I was talking to a female friend (who’s an avowed progressive) about the possibility of running for office, she looked at me very seriously and said,

“You’re the perfect white guy.”

What she meant was that I did a reasonably good job of standing up for people that aren’t straight, white, and male while looking very much like I wouldn’t. A donkey in elephant’s clothing, I joked.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this since that day, and have realized that there are a lot of straight, white men just like me. We understand the advantage inherent in who we are. We welcome diversity of culture and opinion into our lives. We intervene when we see overt injustice.

But, yet, in today’s world, we’re also seen as the root of all problems. The oppressors, the 1%, the privileged. That creates an almost untenable conundrum in how to navigate our current progressive political culture.

I don’t intend this as any sort of sob fest for straight, white guys. Far from it. I know exactly how good I (and we) have it. It just makes me wonder how effective it is to amplify the far left’s “white male privilege is the root of all evil” mantra when there are plenty of white men who are standing squarely on the side of justice.

Perhaps it’s time we cool down the rhetoric and ideology and start engaging each other as individuals instead of labels.

Reminding us of our possibility

I watched Wonder Woman with breakfast and coffee this morning. Combined with last week’s Black Panther, I’m heartened by the different looks our superheros are getting in today’s pop culture. Both movies did a great job at exposing our human imperfection and history of violence — but also our unending optimism that we can rise above it. Perhaps that’s why superhero movies strike such a chord with us. They remind us of our possibility.

Choose kindness

My mind is still churning from last night’s scout meeting where we discussed bullying and personal protection. My scouts are all sixth graders. It’s hard to wrap my brain around how complex these kids’ lives are compared to my sixth grade experience. Cyber bullying wasn’t even possible. Active shooter drills unfathomable.

I left them with one simple entreaty.

“It’s really easy as a human being to let yourself be unkind. It comes naturally to us for some reason … but so does kindness. Choose kindness.”

Facing the monster we created

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Interspersed with the sounds of panic.

The sounds from inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

The sounds so common that we instantly know what they are.

The sounds of an assault rifle shredding lives in another mass shooting in our country.

As the father of a high school student, each pop cuts through my soul, knowing that there’s nothing to prevent the same thing in our community.

Continue reading Facing the monster we created

PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT

September 19, 1985.

I was on the cusp of 14 the day that Tipper Gore testified in front of a congressional subcommittee on behalf of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) — a group formed to combat what they considered to be explicit lyrics.

0917pmrc01
Photo courtesy of Newsweek

In their sights were artists that I listened to in constant rotation — Prince, Twisted Sister, Madonna, AC/DC, Def Leppard, even the quirky Cindy Lauper made the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen. Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider — the front man whose image adorned my bedroom wall — paraded his shaggy blonde mane into that hearing to defend music, and became a rock n’ roll hero.

 

As a result of this national attention, and under the threat of government regulation, the record industry proactively issued PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT labels to be put on any record with lyrics that ventured explicity into sexuality, drugs, or violence.

pmrc-logo

I can vividly remember buying my first albums with that sticker on it — the badge of rock rebellion. I’m not sure if the properly-dressed members of the PMRC realized that they were creating a marketing device in their protest. Seeing that bold, black and white label across a record store was like a lighthouse beacon in the fog to a 14 year-old kid pushing his boundaries. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll wasn’t new. Now it was just easier to find.

Fast forward 33 years. 

I’m now the parent of a teenager whose central passion is his music. He immerses himself in it, dissects it, and creates it. He lives music. 

His two loves are electronic and hip-hop. The first is primarily lyric-less, the latter could make Tipper Gore and the PMRC predict the end of times. The lyrics of hip-hop circa 2018 are raw, violent, and explicit in ways that turn the artists of 1985 into teetotalers by comparison.

I don’t censor what he listens to when he’s with me. As a father, it can feel like a no man’s land filled with double-edged swords. I preach to him my strong belief that music is artistic expression, a reflection of the complexities of real life, and social commentary blended together to move us — physically and emotionally. I don’t believe it has boundaries. It is the expression through which we push boundaries. But … I worry that he will hear lyrics as suggestion rather than expression and reflection. I worry that he will be judged by the music he creates. I worry that my participation in his passion gives some sort of implicit approval of the explicit nature of the lyrics.

Most days, I quash that worry because music for teenagers is a time-tested way of distancing themselves from the saccharine nature of childhood. Provocation. Rebellion. Inspiration. Growth. I did it. He’ll do it. We’ll all be fine.

I brought my son with a few of his friends to see Logic in concert last summer. The other two dads in the group sat up in the comfy seats, but I wanted to be down in the crowd with the boys. I wanted to experience them experience this. His first concert. I stood a few feet behind them, trying vainly to be inconspicuous in a crowd where I was the oldest person by a couple of decades.

You know what? Logic is a phenomenal artist and performer. I knew him through my son, but his music became part of my regular rotation. As the sun went down behind the stage, I lost myself in the show. Yes, it was explicit. Yes, his words purposely provoke. When he launched into Killing Spree, the crowd, including my son and his friends, including me, echoed the lyrics into the throbbing air.

Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is everything that I like, like, like, like
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is everything that I like, like, like, like
Real shit goin’ on in Lebanon
But I don’t give a fuck, my favorite show is coming on
Hashtag pray for this, pray for that
But you ain’t doing shit, get away from that
Blame it on black, blame it on a white
Blame it on a gun, blame it on a Muslim
Everybody wanna blame him, blame her
Just blame it on a mothafucka killing everyone!
Everybody wanna get high, everybody wanna live life like they can’t die
Everybody gotta be right
Everybody scrollin’, scrollin’, thru they life
I wish they would love me like I like they pictures
I wish I had bitches
I wish I had motivation to get money
Ain’t it funny, my rainy day would be sunny
If I had the vision of currency fallin’ above from the sky
Fallin’ above from the sky, listen up
Everybody looking for the meaning of life thru a cell phone screen
Everybody looking for the meaning of life thru a cell phone screen
Everybody think that the meaning of life is
Everybody think that the meaning of life is
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
(full song)

This song is offensive in its language. The socialized adult in me kept chiding you can’t sing this song along with your son. Tipper Gore would have included this song in her Filthy Fifteen, but she would have completely missed its central point. Listen to these lyrics. He’s telling all these kids to stop living their lives through their smart phones. Through the provocation, there’s inspiration. There’s redemption. There’s growth.

For Christmas this year, I created a canvas print of one of my photos from that concert during Logic’s performance of Take It Back — a song that takes direct aim at social injustice. Again, redemption. I overlaid the lyrics of the entire song, and emphasized the redemption.

Take it back / Take it way way back.

Understand the past.

Peace on earth is what I try to be / I just wanna spread the message of equality.

Improve the future.

Yes, there are a million songs out there where you’d have to split infinite hairs to find a shred of redemption. Sometimes music is simply provocation without the redemption. The best music does both.

The concert print hangs in his music studio. I hope it reminds him of the experience of that night. I hope it inspires him to create music that provokes in its words and redeems in its message.